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Fmr. Defense Sec. Gates: No Sense of Urgency From U.S. Leaders on Russian Hacks

Full Gates Interview: Russia Hacking 'Unprecedented' 17:05

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that the Obama administration, congressional leaders and Donald Trump have all demonstrated a lack of urgency surrounding the recent election-related Russian hacking revelations.

"I think that given the unprecedented nature of it and the magnitude of the effort, I think people seem to have been somewhat laid-back about it," Gates told NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press."

Related: FBI Agrees with CIA Assessment That Russia Wanted to Help Trump

"And maybe part of the problem was that it took the intelligence community a while to assemble really firm evidence of Russian involvement and Russian government involvement that delayed a response," Gates, who also headed the CIA, added. "Attribution is a challenge, but it seems pretty clear to me that they've developed really reliable information that the Russian government was involved."

The CIA's assessment that not only did Russia mount a covert operation intended to sow chaos and undermine faith in the 2016 election, something reported prior to November 8, but that the effort was calculated to ultimately help Trump win over his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, was made public last week. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence now has "a high level of confidence" that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in the campaign to disrupt the election.

Officials have said that electing Trump was only part of what Russia was trying to accomplish. The larger goal, they said, was to undermine confidence in American democracy.

"I think that Putin saw the United States withdrawing from around the world. The problem has been that President Obama's actions often have not matched his rhetoric. His rhetoric has often been pretty tough but then there's been no follow up and no action," Gates said.

Gates: 'Cyber May Not Be the Best Way' to Retaliate Against Russia 1:47

President Obama said Friday during his year-end press conference that he had spoken with Putin about the hacks in September, and warned him to "cut it out." Emails that appeared stolen from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta's Gmail account began appearing on WikiLeaks in early October.

"I think it certainly was aimed at weakening Mrs. Clinton," Gates said.